Archive for the ‘Gunma hikes (群馬県)’ category

Mt. Sukai (皇海山)

June 28, 2008

Mt. Sukai, along with Mt. Poroshiri in Hokkaido, garners the dubious distinction of the most difficult Hyakumeizan to access without a car. Those putting in the effort will be rewarded with some wonderful flora and great views.

The hike: There’s a toilet and bridge at the start of the hike, so that’s your clue to park the bike or car. Cross the concrete bridge and take a left up a gated forest road. After a couple of switchbacks, the path will enter the forest on your left. The forest is absolutely beautiful, with a wonderful mountain stream and not a single cedar tree in sight. You’ll have to cross the river 4 times, so use caution if the water level is up. There are plenty of rocks to help you across, so you won’t need to get your feet wet. The trail is well marked with bright blue tape hanging from the trees. These were put up quite recently to replace the worn out red ones, and sometimes you’ll see 2 different paths (the older red one and newer blue one). You can follow either as they lead to the same place. There’s lots of bamboo grass for the first 1.5 km or so, and it can get quite overgrown, so your legs will get soaked if there’s any morning dew on the leaves. The trail basically follows the gully up to the ridge line. When I say follow, I mean just that, as there are very few switchbacks. Someone must’ve had a wicked sense of humor to build such an insane track. The water from the stream seems safe to drink, but you might want to bring a water filter just in case. Continue climbing straight up the mountain. The water will trickle out before disappearing all together, and you’re faced with one of the steepest climbs I’ve ever seen! I’m not sure how you’d make it up in muddy weather, so pray that the ground is solid when you go. There are plenty of ropes to help you, and lots of tree roots to grab/stand on. Luckily, the steep climb is pretty short and you’ll meet up with the main ridge after about 10 minutes. Turn left once you do so, and you’ll start the summit ascent. It should take about an hour to reach the top, and the path isn’t too bad considering what you’ve been through. If the weather is good then you’ll have amazing views of the surrounding peaks (including Mt. Fuji). It was completely covered in cloud when I went, but you can click here to get an idea of what fair weather will bring. According to the map, it should take 3 hours to reach the summit, but considering it’s only 3km from the trailhead to the top, it’s a very conservative estimate. Retrace your steps back to the junction, and consider following the ridge to the top of Mt. Nokogiri (鋸山) for nice views of the mountain you just climbed. You can actually descend via this route (the traditional approach to Mt. Sukai), but you’ve got to scale 12 different peaks using chains and ladders just to get over to Mt. Koushin (庚申山). This could be an alternative route for those relying on public transport (access is via the Watarase keikou railway – わたらせ渓谷鉄道). Bear in mind that it’s a 23km round-trip hike if you choose this approach.

When to go: This hike can be done from mid April to late November, when most of the snow is gone. If coming by car, double check to make sure the forest road is open by calling 0278-56-2111 in Japanese. The name of the forest road is Kurikawa Rindo (栗川林道) and you’ll want to ask if the road is accessible to Sukaibashi (皇海橋).

Access: The start of the track is at the end of a very long and bumpy forest road that is frequently closed because of rock fall. A 4-wheel drive vehicle is recommended for the 1 hour drive. Alternately, you can access the trailhead with a mountain bike. Take a bus from bus stop #1 of Numata (沼田) station and get off at Fukuwari no taki (吹割の滝). The bus takes about 50 minutes and costs around 1300 yen. From there, it’s a 20km bike ride on a very rough road. Click here for the bus schedule. On the web site, click on the 路線バス tab and then select 老神温泉,片品, 尾瀬. All buses on the route stop at Fukuwari waterfall. Most taxis will not take you to the trailhead because of the roughness of the road.

Level of difficulty: 3 out of 5 (elevation change 794m).

Mt. Shibutsu (至仏山)

May 17, 2008

Mt. Shibutsu is a deceptively rocky peak separating Oze marsh and the rest of Gunma Prefecture. A fair number of hikers also make it the final peak of their Hyakumeizan endeavor, as the Chinese characters translate as “reaching Buddha”.

The hike: You’ve got 2 options for this one. You can either climb/descend to Hatomachi-toge or climb from Yama-no-hana (山ノ鼻) and descend to Hatomachi-toge. The trail from Yama-no-hana to the summit is for climbing only and is “closed” for people descending because of the rocks. I really have no idea why you’re not supposed to descend because it just adds to trail erosion to have so many people going up and down from Hatomachi-toge. Anyway, I strongly encourage breaking the rules and feigning inability to read the signs. Anyway, the trail from Hatomachi is well-marked and oh so trodden. It would be impossible to get lost even in the worst of weather. It’ll take about 90 minutes or so to reach the ridge line. The trail climbs steeply, flattens out a bit with lots of wooden planks to walk on, and then climbs up some more. You’ll pass by a water source at the base of a long set of wooden steps before too long. The map says that this water can become contaminated but I drank it unfiltered in September and lived to tell about it. Just past the water source the trail will flatten out once again and you’ll be faced with more wooden planks. While helping to alleviate trail erosion and protect endangered flora, the wooden planks become absolutely treacherous during wet weather, and I must’ve fallen a half a dozen times on the descent, so please take care. In a few minutes you’ll find a trail branching off on the left towards Mt. Kasa (笠ヶ岳), but just ignore it and continue climbing up. This is where you enter the rocky section, with lots of wooden steps and paint marks to help you find your way. It should take about a half hour to reach Ko-Shibutsu (小至仏山), which has awesome views of Oze and Mt. Hiuchi. Descend to a saddle and continue the steady climb through lots of rocks for about 45 minutes until reaching the summit. Take a break and admire the views, or take a quick photo and get out of there during nasty weather. The top is completely exposed – not the kind of place you want to be in a thunderstorm! From the top, you can either continue down the “closed” trail to Yama-no-hana, or retrace your steps all the way back to Hatomachi-toge, and then take the 1 hour “legal” wooden path down to Oze.

When to go: This hike can be done between mid-April and mid-November, when the road to Hatomachi-toge is open. If you don’t mind snowshoeing/skiing on the forest road from Togura then you can also try a winter ascent. Be prepared for a ton of snow even if you go during Golden Week. Click here to get an idea of how much.

Access: From Numata station (沼田駅) take a bus bound for Hatomachi-toge (鳩待峠). Please note that there are no direct buses, and that you must change to a shuttle bus at Togura (戸倉). The first bus leaves at 8:37am, but buses bound for Oshimizu (大清水) leave at 7:20 and 8:02, but make sure you get off at Togura so you can transfer. Please note that if you’ve got 4 people you can easily hire a taxi for exactly the same price as the bus! The taxi and bus are run by the same company, so you should really consider doing this because it will save you so much time. They may even give you the same price for only 3 people – usually they just turn off the meter when it hits the negotiated price. The bus costs a whopping 3100 yen per person, so you can see why the taxi drivers are eager for the cash. Click here for the schedule. Click on “路線バス” and then select “沼田”. Next, click on the schedule #12 that says “上毛高原”

Level of difficulty: 3 out of 5 (elevation change ~800m).

Mt. Tanigawa (谷川岳)

April 9, 2008

Mt. Tanigawa is a rocky peak sitting complacently on the border of Gunma and Niigata Prefectures. Notorious for its nasty weather and head deep snow, the mountain affords wonderful panoramic views and an abundance of plant life.

The hike: From Doai station, head out the front door and turn right on the paved road. Walk uphill about 20 minutes and you’ll come to the Mt. Tanigawa gondola. Take the gondola if you’d like to save 600m of vertical climbing. Otherwise, take the gravel service road that runs to the left of the gondola. This road will take you all the way to the top of the gondola, and it should take around an hour or so. The trail actually branches off this road about halfway up, but you can ignore the actual trail and follow the road toward the left to get to the ski resort. It’s much better to go directly to the ski resort so you can fill up on water in the rest house, as there’s no other water source on the hike. The trail runs in front of the rest house, and then away from the ski lifts toward the rocky peaks of Mt. Tanigawa. It should take about 45 minutes to reach the emergency hut at Kuma-ana sawa (熊穴沢避難小屋). From the hut, turn right and start the real climb toward the summit. There are a few areas with chains to help you on the narrow ridge line, but all in all it’s not too treacherous. You’ll reach the hut just below the summit in about 90 minutes. If the weather is good then the views will be stunning. If not, then take extra care on the knife-edge traverse over to the high point. The summit has 2 twin peaks. The first one you’ll come to is called Tomanomimi (トマノ耳), while the higher peak is called Okinomimi (オキノ耳). After scaling the two peaks, you could continue traversing along the ridge or go back the same way you came. There are also 2 other alternative ways off the mountain. The first one is to take the trail leading away from the hut. This trail is very rocky, with lots of chains and ladders, which probably makes for a safer ascent than descent. The other alternative is to retrace your steps back to the Kuma-ana hut, and take a right. This trail will eventually dump you out at Minakami station (水上駅). I ended up flying back down to the base of the gondola to escape an incoming rainstorm. Grab a map and explore the vast network of trails that this legendary peak has to offer.

When to go: This hike can be done year round if you’ve got an ice axe and crampons. Be especially careful of avalanches in the middle of winter, and be prepared for tons of snow until at least the rainy season.

Access: From Echigo-yuzawa station (越後湯沢駅), take a local JR train bound for Minakami (水上) and get off at Doai station (土合駅).

Live web cam: Click here

Map: Click here. In addition, you can find a couple of beautifully illustrated free maps here. Scroll down to the bottom of the page and download the .pdf files.

Level of difficulty: 4 out of 5 (elevation change 1213m)

Mt. Akagi (赤城山)

March 4, 2008

Mt. Akagi is a gentle, docile peak surrounding a scenic lake. Its easy access from Tokyo brings the car-driving crowds in the summer.

Mt. Akagi

The hike: From the bus stop, check the bus timetable so you can plan your hiking times accordingly. Follow the road downhill toward the lake. You’ll pass a campground on the left, and the trailhead will appear quickly on the right side. The trailhead will be marked Komagadaketozanguchi (駒ヶ岳登山口). The path is well-maintained and you’ll spend the first 20 minutes or so climbing iron stairs. Eventually the trail will flatten out as it reaches the ridgeline, and you’ll be sitting on top of Komagadake in next to no time (about an hour from the bus stop). The views toward Lake Ono (大沼) are beautiful, and the summit of Mt. Akagi will be right in front of you. Continue on the same trail, dropping down to a saddle, where the real climb begins. It should take another45 minutes of sweating before reaching the summit plateau. You’ll first come to a stone marker on the right side, with a trail branching off to Hanami-ga-hara (花見ヶ原). Ignore this trail and head to the high point of Mt. Kurobi (黒檜山). Along the way, you’ll find another trail branching off to the left. This is your return trail to the lake, but for now ignore it and go to the top. The views toward the Nikko mountains are fantastic, and you’ll see the peaks of Oze as well and Mt. Fuji if the weather is clear. After a well deserved lunch break, retrace your steps to the junction and turn right. This trail descends very steeply, with big drops off the left side of the ridge. You definitely don’t want to fall here, and a hiking stick will save your knees. It should take about an hour to reach the lake shore. After reaching the lake, turn left and hike along the road for 20 minutes or so and you’ll reach the Visitor’s Center where you started. It’s perfectly feasible to do this hike in reverse, especially for people who’ve got bad knees.

When to go: This hike can be done year round, but bring some crampons and an ice axe for a winter ascent. Please note that there are no buses in winter.

Access: From Ueno station in Tokyo, take either a limited express train or local train and get off at Maebashi station (前橋駅). The local train takes about 2 hours, with a change of trains at Takasaki (高崎駅), , while the limited express train will save you about a half an hour, with a change of trains at Shinmaebashi (新前橋駅). The cost difference is 1890 yen versus 3700 yen, so take your pick according to budget. From Maebashi station, take a bus bound for Mt. Akagi Visitor’s Center (赤城山ビジターセンター) and get off at the Visitor’s Center. You might have to change buses at Fujimi-onsen (富士見温泉) depending on the season. The bus takes around an hour, but if you’re short of time a taxi will get you there in about 45 minutes, but will set you back about 8000 yen or so. Click here for the bus schedule.

Level of difficulty: 2 out of 5 (elevation change 468m)

Mt. Hotaka (武尊山)

February 29, 2008

Not to be confused with Hotaka-dake in the Japan Alps, Mt. Hotaka is a scenic peak with stunning views of all the mountains in Gunma Prefecture, even out to Mt. Fuji.

Mt. Hotaka

The hike: The trailhead starts at Hotakajinja (武尊神社), which is at the end of the paved forest road, about 2km from the Houdaigi campground (宝台樹キャンプ場). At first, the trail is just a continuation of the forest road, with “Beware of Bear” signs everywhere. Although I didn’t see any of those nocturnal creatures, I did spot a Japanese mountain goat (Kamoshika). After about 40 minutes of hiking, you’ll come to the end of the forest road, and are faced with 2 options. It’s a loop trail, so take your pick, but I must warn you that the trail to the left has a section with chains and ladders, which are a lot easier to climb than descend. Take the trail to the left, and you’ll come to an emergency “hut” and water source after about an hour of steep climbing. The hut is is nothing more than a huge corrogated metal pipe cut in half with a door attached. It’s not a very attractive place to stay, unless you’re dodging a typhoon! There’s a small stream near the hut where you can fill up your water bottle (you should filter the water just in case). The hut is hidden and off to the left of the main trail. After passing the hut, you’ve got a tough, steep climb with a section of chains and ladders. Be careful if it’s wet, and take it slow. It’s not as bad as some of the stuff I’ve encountered in the Japan Alps, but careless and a broken bone on any mountain is no fun. After you pass this short section, it’s easygoing to the top. Once on the summit, take a lunch break and enjoy the views. The trail splits in 3. You’ve got some options, but the most enticing is to head to the spear-like peak of Kengamine (剣ケ峰山). It’s an hour of up and down traversing before reaching a junction. Take the trail on the right to head down the mountain, but before you do that, climb the rocks in front of you to the top of Kengamine. The views of Mt. Fuji on a clear day are wonderful, and you’ll also have a panoramic view back to Hotaka, Mt. Tanigawa, Mt. Makihata, Mt. Shibutsu, Mt. Sukai, the peaks of Nikko and beyond. After taking some photos, retrace your steps back to the junction and head down off the mountain. You’ll be back at the forest road in about 90 minutes, passing a water source along the way. If you’ve got time, then head to Takaragawa-onsen (宝川温泉) before heading back into town.

When to go: This mountain gets meters and meters of snow in the winter, but the road to the bus stop is open all year round, so if you’ve got the right equipment (and experience), then go for it. Otherwise, aim to go between April and November.

Access: From Minakami station (水上駅), take a bus bound for Takaragawa-onsen (宝川温泉) and get off at Hotakakyou (武尊橋). From there, it’s a 2-hour walk on a paved road to the trailhead, although you should try to hitch. I got a ride with a guy on his way to work at the campground noodle shop. According to the campground web site, there’s a direct shuttle bus from Minakami station in the summer. Check the site here in Japanese for more information.

Level of difficulty: 4 out of 5 (elevation change 1118m)

Mt. Kusatsushirane (草津白根山)

February 20, 2008

Mt. Kusatsushirane is a splendid active volcano located just up the road from Kusatsu Hot Spring, one of the most famous onsen in all of Japan. The mountain also boasts a lime colored volcanic lake and numerous hiking trails.


The hike: From the parking lot, you’ve got a number of different options. Directly behind the rest house, a short trail leads to the crown jewel of Kusatsu, Lake Yugama (湯釜). You’ve got to see this lake to believe it, as the picture I’ve posted doesn’t do it justice. Unfortunately, there’s a fence preventing entry to the lake, which is all the better because it would probably be completely eroded away from the huge crowds that decent on this highly accessible mountain. The lake really is the highlight of the enture hike, but if you cross the other side of the road, there’s a small loop trail around a small, scenic lake. Follow the flat road next to the lake and it’ll lead to the ski resort. You can take a chair lift up to the main ridge, or hike up in about 20 minutes. From there, the trail splits several times, with the trail straight ahead leading to the highest point of the mountain. If the weather is good there’s little chance of getting lost, but if the fog is in it’s better to have a map (which you can get for free at the visitor’s center in the parking lot). The mountain is worth a good half a day of exploring the various network of trails, neither of which are very difficult. Eventually work your way back to the parking lot, where you can catch a bus back down the mountain or try your luck hitching. This road connects Kusatsu with Shiga Kogen, the largest ski resort in Japan. The road is closed in the winter, but if you do this hike during Golden Week, then bring your snowboard and enjoy the last runs of Shiga Kogen, a short distance away.

When to go: This hike can be done from late April to early November, when the road to the mountain is open. A winter stroll is also possible if you take the gondola from Kusatsu International Ski Resort (草津国際スキー場).

Access: From Yudanaka (湯田中) station, take a bus bound for Shirane Kazan (白根火山) and get off at the last stop. Alternatively, there’s one bus a day from the east exit of Nagano station that leaves at 10:10am. The bus runs from April 20th to November 3rd and costs 1500 yen. Click here for the bus schedule. There are also 6 buses a day from Kusatsu Hot Spring (草津温泉) to Shirane Kazan. Click here for the bus schedule.

Live web cam: Click here

Level of difficulty: 1 out of 5 (elevation change: 155m).